Murder on the Home Front

Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries During the London Blitz

by Molly Lefebure

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It is 1941. While the “war of chaos” rages in the skies above London, an unending fight against violence, murder and the criminal underworld continues on the streets below.

One ordinary day, in an ordinary courtroom, forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson asks a keen young journalist to be his secretary. Although the “horrors of secretarial work” don’t appeal to Molly Lefebure, she’s intrigued to know exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door.

Capable and curious, “Miss Molly” quickly becomes indispensable to Dr. Simpson as he meticulously pursues the truth. Accompanying him from somber morgues to London’s most gruesome crime scenes, Molly observes and assists as he uncovers the dark secrets that all murder victims keep.

With a sharp sense of humor and a rebellious spirit, Molly tells her own remarkable true story here with warmth and wit, painting a vivid portrait of wartime London.

Murder of the Home Front is my first nonfiction of 2019! It is also my first book from my 2018 Leftover List. (the full list is on my 2019 Goals post)

Molly Lefebure is working as a journalist when she is approached by famous pathologist C Keith Simpson in a courtroom. He needs assistance and hopes she is willing to be his secretary. Molly has no intention of being stuck behind a desk taking notes but she can’t say no to the chance of working in the mortuary. Murder on the Home Front is Molly’s account of her years working as CKS’ secretary during World War II.

First, my negative comments. It took me over five months to finish Murder on the Home Front! I typically breeze through audiobooks, but the narrator’s voice was just a tad too lilting for my taste. It still took me a solid third of the book to become invested in Molly’s life primarily because of the high-brow tone of the audio. The layout of the story didn’t help either. The individual stories are presented in a quick sequential orderand they read like mini-chapters within each chapter. This style is awesome for the amount of information presented but these easy stopping points meant I stopped. Frequently.

That’s it for my personal negative thoughts but I noticed some reoccurring complaints from other reviewers and decided to address them too. First: readers need to remember the book was initially published in the mid-50s. I love the tone because it is written from Molly’s youthful view. Her memories haven’t been influenced by subsequent decades of life and life lessons. However, many people considered her flighty because of her nonchalant tone. Look. She is writing about her job; it’s an amazingly cool job but still just a job. She talks about her days the same way any of us would talk about our boring jobs. Second: many people claim Molly comes across as victim blaming. I feel it’s a personal choice to read this view point into Murder on the Home Front. Look, Molly bluntly states that people wouldn’t have been murdered if they hadn’t been wandering around dark streets alone at night or spending time with violent people. That’s true. Her approach is very factual and somewhat devoid of sympathy for the people laying on CKS’ table. Come on true crime fans….you should know this the typical reaction of people who handle this gruesome stuff on a regular basis. 🙄

Murder on the Home Front is an interesting read. I liked Molly. She is a smart, strong willed, confident woman who quickly adapted to her somewhat gruesome position. Her story gives a lighthearted approach to post mortem examinations, a unique view of wartime London, and a personable experience with the changing social roles of the 1940s. Murder on the Home Front needs to be on every true crime buff’s TBR. It’s a fantastic work detailing the ‘back office’ aspect of investigations and the implementation of forensics.

Let me know what you think and happy reading!

Lindsay

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No Stone Unturned

No Stone Unturned: The Truth Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators

by Steve Jackson

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A body stuffed in a car trunk swallowed by the swirling, muddy waters of the Missouri River. A hiker brutally murdered, then thrown off a cliff in a remote mountain range. A devious killer who hid his wife’s body under a thick cement patio. For investigators, the story is often the same: they know a murder took place, they may even know who did it. But without key evidence, pursuing a conviction is nearly impossible. That’s when they call NecroSearch International. NecroSearch boasts a brain trust of the nation’s top scientists, specialists, and behaviorists who use the latest technology and techniques to help solve “unsolvable” crimes, no matter how decayed the corpse, no matter how cleverly the killer has hidden the victim’s body. Now, for the first time ever, readers are taken on a fascinating, often-shocking journey into a realm of crime investigation of which few people are aware. Necrosearch’s most challenging cases are described, step-by-step, as these modern-day Sherlock Holmes’s detect bodies and evidence thought irretrievable, and testify in court to bring cold-blooded killers to justice.

July found me craving a good true crime nonfiction read. I had previously enjoyed The Poisoner’s Handbook, and was looking for something that focused on forensic science. But I also wanted a story that covered actual investigations (which is what I was looking for but didn’t get when I read Mad City) I was lamenting my need for a good true crime story to my friend TS Barnett and she suggested I check out No Stone Unturned. She shares my love for true crime and has great taste, so I immediately started the audio version.

I absolutely loved No Stone Unturned! The novel follows the creation of NecroSearch, a group of scientists dedicated to advancing forensic science and investigation. The story is expertly laid out, starting with the development of the ‘pig people’ organization and introducing key scientists and volunteers involved. Jackson outlines the science behind the different fields with include geology, archaeology, entomology, and sloberology! The science is presented in laymen’s terms; keeping the information relatable without utilizing and insultingly dumbed-down approach.

One of the best aspects of No Stone Unturned is the applied use of the science in individual cases. Parker focuses on one case at a time. For each investigation he provides information from the disappearance of the victim, the initial police investigation, the involvement of NecroSearch, and the results of the search. He even recounts the trials of the killers. Each investigation is different and presented unique problems which allowed the scientists of NecroSearch to help return lost loved-ones while also providing new data on developing investigation techniques.

And if that wasn’t already fantastic….the volunteers of NecroSearch are dedicated to working together as peers. They actively avoid egotistical battles and hold law enforcement in high respect. Jackson even shares how the group help each other handle the mental effects of working with violence, death, and missing bodies.

I do not have anything negative to say about the story. The complaints I saw from other reviewers, which are few, is the writing style can be dry and they wished for more details concerning the individual team members. I found the writing to be far from dry, but I did also read the audio version. (It was fantastic and well worth the listen).

No Stone Unturned is a nonfiction work I would happily recommend to anyone interested in true crime or forensic investigation. It provides a surprisingly hopeful attitude to a rather morbid topic. It even managed to bring me out of a frustrating reading slump. Pick it up! And please share your true crime suggestions, since I always need another book to read 🙂

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

The Forgotten 500

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II

by Gregory A Freeman

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In 1944 the OSS set out to recover more than 500 airmen trapped and sheltered for months by villagers behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. Classified for over half a century for political reasons, this is the full account of Operation Halyard, a story of loyalty, self-sacrifice, and bravery.

I like historical nonfiction and I particularly enjoy aviation rescue stories (you may know this if you heard me gushing about Frozen in Time last year.) So of course I was going to read The Forgotten 500. This is the story of Operation Halyard, a World War II rescue of American airmen downed behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. I had never heard of this event and was immediately intrigued.

I have mixed feelings about The Forgotten 500. I enjoyed it. I had never heard of this event and the story has spurred me to learn more about the events occurring in Yugoslavia during World War II. To me this is the most important role of historical nonfiction; inspiring self education on new topics. With that said, I had a hard time finishing the book due excessive idealized sections of politics (a topic I find boring and tedious on a good day).

So lets start with the positive points. I enjoy the flow of the story. The Forgotten 500 is not presented chronologically, but starts with airmen landing in Yugoslavia and then jumps to events that eventually led to the Allied bombing of the county. It was engaging, and Freeman expertly guides his readers through the anxiety of surviving a jump from a downed bomber, the efforts of people trying to escape the country at the start of the war, and eventually the fantastic rescue of over 500 airmen. I even enjoyed Freeman’s brief history of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the development of Operation Halyard. The Forgotten 500 is full of personal accounts from survivors, both airmen and OSS agents. It provides a detailed account of a country and culture of which I know very little, and reminded me there is so much out there I have yet to learn.

Now for the negative points. I always read other reviews after finishing a story, especially when reading historical nonfiction. I like to see what other readers enjoy and don’t enjoy about each story and make it a point to address recurring comments. The negative reviews consistently claim The Forgotten 500 is full of historical inaccuracies. I can not substantiate or disprove these statements as I know very little about Yugoslavian history and had never heard of Operation Halyard before picking up the book. (Here there be SPOILERS) I will state Freeman provides a very one- sided view when it comes to Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic. He is presented as a saint, while Marshal Tito and his group of Partisans are presented in a much more negative light. Little information was given about Tito’s roll in saving American airmen; instead the story is focused on the group of over 500 harbored by Mihailovic supporters. And I was especially confused by a section claiming Partisan sympathizers in England’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) attempted to sabotage the rescue operation on numerous occasions. I need to learn more about these topics.

So do I recommend The Forgotten 500? Yes, but with the following caveat: do your own research. Historical nonfiction is a vital aspect of continual education and I find it imperative that we should always look for all sides of the story. Have you read The Forgotten 500? Let me know what you think!

Lindsay

Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow

Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow: Lessons from an Epic Friendship that Went the Distance

by Susan Lacke

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They were unlikely friends. She was a young, overweight college professor with a pack-and-a-half a day habit and a bad attitude. He was her boss, and an accomplished Ironman triathlete. She was a whiner, he was a hardass. He had his shit together, she most assuredly did not. Yet Susan and Carlos shared a deep and abiding friendship that traversed life, sport, illness, death, and everything in between.

Some times you find yourself reading a book at the perfect moment. Audible recommended Life is Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow last Monday morning. I was sitting in my car, sobbing happy tears, as I finished the book that Monday afternoon. It was exactly what I needed to read.

Disclaimer: there is a good amount of cussing in this book (if you didn’t get that from the title) It doesn’t bother me, but I know some people take offense to this. You now know it’s there.

Disclaimer #2: You will probably cry. This book promises to talk about training for triathlons, but it is so so so much more than that. I promise the tears are good ones.

Now for my review. I needed a motivational read because I’ve been struggling with my own running journey. I’ve been benched because of surgery recovery. A recovery that is much slower than expected and the sudden decrease in physical activity left me feeling down. So I picked up Lacke’s story because it promised humorous motivation.

And it delivered! Lacke’s dialogue is engaging and hilarious. She doesn’t bother readers by laying out her detailed workouts or her meal plans. Instead she talks about struggling through training days, faking her way through buying gear, and the amazing adrenaline driven race days.

Lacke starts this journey as an unhealthy stressed out professor. Her boss, Carlos, confronts her about her lifestyle during a smoke break and convinces her to spend her lunch swimming with him. It’s the kick start to an unlikely friendship, and an unexpected passion for endurance sports.

Readers follow Lacke through her stubborn approach to training, listen to Carlos’ sarcastic words of encouragement, and experience the joy of life endurance racing provides. But we also follow Lacke’s struggle with alcoholism, her fight for self appreciation, and management of the inevitable curveballs thrown by life. This book is the story of Lacke’s friendship with Carlos and how it changed her life.

I don’t want to give any other details away because I feel you’ll get more out of this story if you stumble along with Lacke. I highly recommend it for those needing a motivational pick me up. It’s a solid reminder of how the small things in life can actually be the most important.

Are any of my fellow readers also triathletes? Has anyone else stumbled upon Lacke’s story? Please let me know what you think, and happy reading.

Lindsay

My Year of Running Dangerously

My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan

by Tom Foreman

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CNN correspondent Tom Foreman’s remarkable journey from half-hearted couch potato to ultra-marathon runner, with four half-marathons, three marathons, and 2,000 miles of training in between; a poignant and warm-hearted tale of parenting, overcoming the challenges of age, and quiet triumph.

As a journalist whose career spans three decades, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman has reported from the heart of war zones, riots, and natural disasters. He has interviewed serial killers and been in the line of fire. But the most terrifying moment of his life didn’t occur on the job–it occurred at home, when his 18-year old daughter asked, “How would you feel about running a marathon with me?” 

At the time, Foreman was approaching 51 years old, and his last marathon was almost 30 years behind him. The race was just sixteen weeks away, but Foreman reluctantly agreed. Training with his daughter, who had just started college, would be a great bonding experience, albeit a long and painful one. 

My Year of Running Dangerously is Foreman’s journey through four half-marathons, three marathons, and one 55-mile race. What started as an innocent request from his daughter quickly turned into a rekindled passion for long-distance running–for the training, the camaraderie, the defeats, and the victories. Told with honesty and humor, Foreman’s account captures the universal fears of aging and failure alongside the hard-won moments of triumph, tenacity, and going further than you ever thought possible.

I officially signed up for my first marathon today! 2018 has brought about a love of running, and not surprisingly, a love for books about running. I’m good at combining my hobbies ☺️.

I decided to keep reading running books after finishing How to Lose a Marathon. I picked up the audio version of My Year of Running Dangerously, which is about Tom Foreman’s return to long distance running. Tom Foreman is a correspondent for CNN, but I wasn’t interested in news or politics. I was interested in hearing how he went from a couch potato to running four half-marathons, 3 marathons, and one ultra marathon in one year! My Year of Running Dangerously provided just that!

Tom’s running journey starts when his eldest daughter requests they train for a marathon together. Foreman tells the story of his training, including excerpts of running as a child, his first marathons run in his 20s, and his unintentional loss of the sport after the arrival of kids. Readers follow Foreman as he runs a marathon with his daughter, and then jumps head first into the sport of long distance running.

I absolutely loved My Year of Running Dangerously! Forman doesn’t hold back, providing both the good and the bad of his journey. We hear how running brings him closer to family while simultaneously causing strain in his work/training/life balance. We experience scary training runs, moments of defeat, and painful injuries. We run alongside on fantastic runs, see gorgeous trails, and embrace the feeling of accomplishment. Foreman talks about the people he’s met, details the places he’s seen, and shares the life revelations experienced while running. Plus, the audio book is read by the author, which makes makes you feel as if your sharing running stories with Foreman on a lazy afternoon.

My Year of Running Dangerously was just what I needed as I start my next stage of training. It reassured me that I was not alone in my struggles or joys, and made me look forward to my next race. It’s the perfect read for runners and those wishing to learn more about why people choose to run.

So, expect many more running nonfiction books this year :). And please let me know if you have any recommendations! Happy reading (and running)!

Lindsay

Winter Update

This is my Winter Reading Update. I have decided to provide a quarterly update to help keep track of my reading goals, progress, and trending themes. It is no surprise the majority of my reads were historical mysteries. These are the books finished January, February, and March 2018.

TOTAL: 9

This number includes my one DNF and I have them listed under the different genres. It was an ok reading quarter and I’m looking forward to what I will read this spring!

Mystery: 5

 

Historical Fiction: 1

This genre tab has books that are strictly historical fiction without an additional mystery plot.

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Nonfiction: 2

Reread: 1

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Do Not Finish: 1

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What books did you finish this winter? Do you have any suggestions for my spring TBR? Let me know and happy reading!

Lindsay

How to Lose a Marathon

How to Lose a Marathon: A Starter’s Guide to Finishing in 26.2 Chapters

by Joel H Cohen

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In How to Lose a Marathon, Joel Cohen takes readers on a step-by-step journey from being a couch potato to being a couch potato who can finish a marathon. Through a hilarious combination of running tips, narrative, illustrations and infographics, Cohen breaks down the misery that is forcing yourself to run. From chafing to the best times to run, explaining the phenomenon known as the “Oprah Line,” and exposing the torture that is a pre-marathon expo, Cohen acts as your snarky guide to every aspect of the runner’s experience. Offering both real advice and genuine commiseration with runners of all skill levels, How to Lose a Marathon lets you know that even if you believe that the “runner’s high” is a complete myth, you can still survive all 26.2 miles of a marathon.

My one New Years resolution was to run a marathon in 2017. I was not a runner but I’ve actually been sticking with my training! AND ENJOYING IT! So of course I need to read about running because that’s who I am.

I heard about How to Lose a Marathon while listening to a running podcast. It’s humorous look at the unique ‘aspects’ of becoming a runner appealed to me. Each chapter covers a mile in his journey and Cohen includes drawings to help illustrate the joys and frustrations of running.

I loved it! I don’t want to provide too many details because you just need to read it. This book is a delight and I recommend it to runners, aspiring runners, and couch potatoes. How to Lose a Marathon will be one of my favorite nonfiction reads this year!

Any runners out there needing a funny read? Any couch potatoes wanting to understand why people run? Bored while waiting for an airplane? READ IT!

Lindsay

Eiger Dreams

Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains

by Jon Krakauer

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No one writes about mountaineering and its attendant victories and hardships more brilliantly than Jon Krakauer. In this collection of his finest essays and reporting, Krakauer writes of mountains from the memorable perspective of one who has himself struggled with solo madness to scale Alaska’s notorious Devils Thumb.

In Pakistan, the fearsome K2 kills thirteen of the world’s most experienced mountain climbers in one horrific summer. In Valdez, Alaska, two men scale a frozen waterfall over a four-hundred-foot drop. In France, a hip international crowd of rock climbers, bungee jumpers, and paragliders figure out new ways to risk their lives on the towering peaks of Mont Blanc. Why do they do it? How do they do it? In this extraordinary book, Krakauer presents an unusual fraternity of daredevils, athletes, and misfits stretching the limits of the possible.

From the paranoid confines of a snowbound tent, to the thunderous, suffocating terror of a white-out on Mount McKinley, Eiger Dreams spins tales of driven lives, sudden deaths, and incredible victories. This is a stirring, vivid book about one of the most compelling and dangerous of all human pursuits.

Eiger Dreams is my first nonfiction read in 2018! (One down…eleven to go!)

I liked it. It’s not going to be my favorite book of 2018 but I did enjoy Eiger Dreams. I started the year craving a book that would satisfy my need for adventure. I found myself looking at Jon Krakauer books on Audible, I realized that I had no desire to read Into the Wild (and probably never will) and that I wasn’t up to reading Into Thin Air (I can be lazy…what can I say?). Eiger Dreams seemed to be a perfect choice for my first Jon Krakauer read. It is different because it is a series of articles, some of which were published in magazines, that detail different climbing styles and locations. Each article is full of eccentric characters, death defying feats, and Krakauer’s own climbing experiences.

The format made Eiger Dreams feel like a quick read. This is essential to enjoy the story as Krakauer’s stories have a way of disenchanting the romance of climbing while also pulling at adventurous heartstrings in a way that makes you want to sell everything you own for the next trip. It can be a pretty overwhelming wave of emotion by the time you finish one climb. And then you are off to another part of the word! Eiger Dreams introduces readers to a variety of cultures that seem so foreign while so familiar as the field is full of the same type of character who longs to reach the top of each peek.

My only complaint can not be considered a complaint because its not the book’s fault. Eiger Dreams it dated. The book was published in 1997 and I never forgot that while listening. The book was great, but I finished it ready to pick up a second installment. Ready to read more stories, newer adventures, of those who long to conquer nature’s peaks and ignore danger to follow their passion

It was an interesting read, and I recommend for those wishing to learn more about the varied aspects of climbing. Let me know if you have read Eiger Dreams. What is your favorite Krakauer book?

Have a great weekend!

Lindsay

Favorite 2017 Reads

I totally forgot to share my favorite reads of 2017! Looking back on the year I can say that my reading was ok. I read some fantastic books, but I struggled with my reading goals the first half of the year. Thankfully I was back to consistently reading, and writing reviews, after June. Still, I didn’t read as much as hoped so I am sharing only my top fiction and nonfiction reads of 2017.

(Note: these are new reads. I re-read Every Secret Thing, which will always be one of my favorite books. Considering it makes it less fair for all the other books.)

(Other random note: I read both of these via audiobook.)

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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I still find myself thinking about A Gentleman in Moscow. Months later I can still picture the ornate hotel decor, the taste of wines perfectly paired with exceptional food, and the overwhelming since of unconditional friendship that filled the pages. The imagery is enough to boost this book to the top of the list but Towles’ ability to pull readers in and invest them in every aspect of one man’s life makes this story one worth returning to again and again.

Nonfiction

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

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I picked up Frozen in Time because, well honestly, it promised military aviation and arctic survival. How could I not pick it up?!? Two aspects propelled this book to the top of my list. The first is that this is a TRUE STORY! The second, Zuckoff’s writing has you there surviving on the ice with these airmen. There was many an afternoon where I was super irritated at having to put the book down. It was just fantastic.

I obviously recommend both of these stories, and I would love to hear about your favorites! Happy reading everyone.

Lindsay

The Poisoner’s Handbook

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

by Deborah Blum

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Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s Handbook Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can’t always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler’s experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed “America’s Lucretia Borgia” to continue her nefarious work.

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler’s laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren’t the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist’s war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham’s crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

My husband and I are both fans of documentaries, and one lazy weekend we discovered The Poisoner’s Handbook on Netflix. It was fantastic! The film covered the development of forensic science in New York during the 1920s/1930s. It detailed the lives of the innovators of the field, Norris and Gettler, while also providing detailed examples of the various poisons and substances studied. I LOVED IT! To date I have watched that documentary 6-7 times. And then I realized it was based on a book, so of course I had to read it!

I picked up The Poisoner’s Handbook as part of Nonfiction November (I read two books for that challenge. The other was Frozen in Time) My opinion was the same for the book as the movie…it was fantastic!

Blum’s writing style easy to follow, as it is informative without being insultingly simplistic. The presentation follows a relatively chronological process from the initial development of the medical examiner’s office and forensic investigation department to the establishment of national forensic standards. Yet, this information is provided strategically throughout the story. Each chapter is dedicated to an individual poison, providing stories of actual criminal cases, the process of testing for each poison, and how each substance impacted the growth of the forensic department. I turned the last page feeling as if I personally knew both Norris and Gettler. And Blum’s inclusion of actual criminal cases kept The Poisoner’s Handbook engaging, educational, and downright intriguing!

I personally do not have a negative opinion to share, but I do want to note that most of the bad reviews of The Poisoner’s Handbook concern the actual science. I am an archaeologist/historian/writer by training and trade; I know absolutely nothing about chemistry. I cannot attest to the validity of the science documented in this book. I trust Blum’s presentation, but that’s all I can do at this point. I will say that these negative reviews have me wanting to read and learn more about this topic.

I will recommend this book, and the documentary, to anyone remotely interested in the history of criminology and forensic investigation. I find this to be a very tumultuous and interesting time in American history, and one that I am always eager to learn more about. Let me know if you’ve ready The Poisoner’s Handbook. I want to know what you think!

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Lindsay